What are the Tony Awards? Everything You Need to Know

Article Image
Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins

The theater industry’s top honors, presented in New York City each year in June by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, are the ultimate prize for artists and actors who tread the boards. To win a Tony is to earn a cachet like no other, a distinction that signals the pinnacle of stagecraft in the way an Emmy does for television and an Oscar does for film.

Backstage has rounded up the fine print on every thespian’s favorite awards ceremony, the ins and outs of nominating and voting, and how a theater artist might go about winning one.


What is a Tony Award?

The Tony Awards—otherwise known as the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre—recognize the best of live Broadway theater. The awards are named after the renowned artist and co-founder of the Wing, the nonprofit dedicated to preserving and fostering the art form. The statue comprises a medallion positioned on a swivel. As stated by the Wing, “the Tony Awards remain the highest honor in American theatre, commanding theatre’s recognition as a timelessly relevant art form for advancing national culture and personal human experience.”

Drawing of a Tony Award

Who has the most Tony Awards?

  • Stage legend Harold Prince has the record for most Tony statues to his name, with 21 across multiple categories.
  • Audra McDonald holds the distinction of most-decorated performer with six Tonys, and she's the only actor to win in all four available categories. Julie Harris also claimed six Tony Awards, counting her Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre honor.
  • “The Producers” is the winningest production with 12 Tonys.
  • “Hamilton” is the most-nominated production, earning 16 nominations.

When are the 2023 Tony Awards?

The 76th annual Tony Awards will be televised at 8pm E.T. on June 11, 2023 at United Palace.

How to watch the 2023 Tony Awards

The 76th annual Tony awards will be televised on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

How is the WGA strike affecting the Tony Awards?

While the 2023 Tony Awards ceremony was temporarily in doubt due to the Writers Guild of America strike, Tony Awards Productions has agreed to alter this year's show to conform with WGA requests, and in turn WGA will not be picketing the show. As a result of the agreement, the ceremony will not be using a previously written script, and the WGA is asking that Tony-nominated members of the guild not attend this year's ceremony.

When did the Tony Awards start?

Drawing of Harold Prince

Actor, director, and producer Antoinette Perry died in 1946; in her honor, the accolade was established in her name recognizing her tireless efforts supporting and promoting the country’s best theater. Despite the timing of the name, the history of the Tonys stretches back to over 100 years; the American Theatre Wing was founded in 1917 by seven suffragettes, originally naming the enterprise the Stage Women’s War Relief in order to raise funds for American troops on their way to fighting in World War I.

The Wing first joined forces with the Broadway League to administer the Tonys in 1967, the first year the ceremony earned a national telecast. Since then, the show has been hosted by such Tony winners as Neil Patrick Harris, Glenn Close, Hugh Jackman, Nathan Lane, and five-timer Angela Lansbury.

Tony eligibility requirements

Tony eligibility requirements are simple: Broadway shows are eligible. A cutoff date near the end of April designates the end of a season, meaning any production that opens after that on what is considered Broadway is eligible for the next Tony Awards.

Drawing of Audra McDonald

The current list of 41 eligible Broadway houses has been determined by the Tony Awards Administration Committee, a group comprising representatives from the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League, as well as Actors’ Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild, United Scenic Artists, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. If a production is presented regularly at any of those theaters with a designated opening night on or before the cutoff date, and its producers invite the Administration committee and submit the requisite paperwork, that production is automatically in the running.

When it comes to the competitive Tony categories, questions of each production’s eligibility are determined by the committee periodically throughout the year. Productions’ eligibility as either “new” or “revival” has historically been debated at such meetings (frequently produced works that have never bowed on Broadway, for example, can lead to a controversial gray area). Often, performers listed above and below the title on a show’s official print program are contenders for “leading” and “featured” actor categories, respectively.

Who votes for the Tony Awards?

Each year the Tony Awards Administration committee selects around 50 professionals who are rotated into the Tony Awards Nominating Committee, a group that is always expected to see every eligible Broadway show and meet shortly after the cutoff date to nominate artists and productions via secret ballots.

Then, after the nominations announcement in early May, the process falls to the voters. Around 800 members of the New York theater community—actors, writers, directors, designers, managers, casting directors, and administrative staff—choose their winners. An accounting firm that manages voting tabulates secret ballots in an effort to keep the results a surprise until the ceremony.

Tony Award categories

Although the list has changed over the years, adding, subtracting, and retitling various categories, here is every award handed out during the annual Tonys ceremony:

  • Best Musical
  • Best Revival of a Musical
  • Best Direction of a Musical
  • Best Book of a Musical
  • Best Play
  • Best Revival of a Play
  • Best Direction of a Play
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Orchestrations
  • Best Choreography
  • Best Scenic Design of a Musical
  • Best Costume Design of a Musical
  • Best Lighting Design of a Musical
  • Best Sound Design of a Musical
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play
  • Best Costume Design of a Play
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play
  • Best Sound Design of a Play

A handful of noncompetitive statues are also selected by the Tony Awards Administration Committee each year:

  • Regional Theatre Tony Award
  • Isabelle Stevenson Award
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre

How to win a Tony award

As with any major accolade, the usual ingredients are required to win: hard work and training, perseverance in the face of rejection, the ability to recognize and seize opportunity, and a little bit of luck. To the extent that any such triumph can be broken down into steps, here is the path of every future Tony Award winner:

Ready to star on the Great White Way? Check out Backstage’s Broadway audition listings!